Farm Bureau Confronts Other Ag Groups in Farm Bill Differences

October 22, 2011 09:49 AM
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via a special arrangement with Informa Economics, Inc.

Major debate occurring in public, while farm-state lawmakers hold plans behind closed doors

NOTE: This column is copyrighted material, therefore reproduction or retransmission is prohibited under U.S. copyright laws.

The American Farm Bureau Federation is doing what Agriculture Committee leaders have not done lately: provide specifics to the public on what should be in and out of the next farm bill. There could be more at stake than many realize. And there may be a reason why farm-state lawmakers have not gone public: the pending farm bill plan is still quite liquid and thus subject to change.

The nation's largest farmer group now opposes so-called “shallow loss” programs, noting some of them would lead to “double-dipping” for some farm program payments. Farm Bureau prefers to keep direct payments but improve on some existing programs. They do not want to keep the Supplemental Revenue Assistance (SURE) program (SURE).

Farm Bureau's ideas. While noting concerns about some proposed farm program reform proposals in another letter to farm-state lawmakers (see link), Farm Bureau also offered its proposals in detail for the first time via a plan called the Systemic Risk Reduction Program (SRRP). See link for details of SRRP.

The best way out of this current dilemma could be to offer farm program participants an option: take the current approach to farm programs, but with some changes, or instead sign up for a more revenue assurance type program (there have been several such plans proposed).

As for changes in existing programs, most signal a lowering if not elimination of direct payments, but tweaking other program elements such as target prices (raise them somewhat to reflect the current structure of farming risks) and loan rates (perhaps variable loan rates).

The public relations threat of some pending revenue assurance proposals is that they could lead to double-dipping payouts. If farm-state leaders do not see the danger in that, then I would be surprised. They must realize that the last thing agriculture needs in the current commodity price structure and record farm income is even the chance of double-dipping payouts.

A farmer safety net should protect and trigger when prices are very low, not just a bit below previous record levels.

Another apparently ongoing debate is whether or not to go to planted acres rather than base acres in determining farm program payments. There are pros and cons for both sides, but again, any move back to actual plantings would be more of a “retro” program that could have some significant implications for safety-net protection to some crops like cotton and wheat.

Bottom line: Farm-state leaders and key staff have a lot of complex work ahead. Sorting through the nuances of some major potential policy changes demands a comprehensive thought process. That is what is likely going on at this time and why farm-state leaders have been very careful about any major specifics.

NOTE: This column is copyrighted material, therefore reproduction or retransmission is prohibited under U.S. copyright laws.






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